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Interview with Florian Guillaume, Co-Director of "Magic Shoe: Episode 3"

The London-based rock band El Deyma has begun to release via their YouTube channel a series of serialized multi-media music videos entitled “The Magic Shoe,” in which each instalment features one of their songs.

Each episode features a different cinematographic technique, so far having explored both live action and two styles of stop motion. Each video features the next chapter in an on-going narrative about a red shoe’s search for his twin, beginning – in episode one – in the bedroom of it’s owner, before the shoe eventually hits the streets of London in its quest, which is where the second episode – a live action piece – begins. The third episode, which is this week’s Stop Motion Geek “pick of the week,” follows the shoe’s exploits through a surreal, collage-style, stop-motion version of Venice, the soundtrack to which is the band’s song “Dino Monkey.”

The original idea for the Magic Shoe series (originally conceived for what became episode one, featuring El Deyma’s song, “Odd-O-Matic”) comes from the mind of the French directors, Axelle De Biasi and Kelly Lippmann.

Beyond the humour of the story and the wonderful music (both of which are great), the art direction and craft that went into the video itself is delightful and interesting, especially from an animation perspective. The “collage” aspect of the piece utilizes the “replacement animation” style of stop motion, whereby individual still pictures – all of which were shot of a live-action subject – were printed out in hard-copy, and then cut out from the rest of the image. The remainder of the photograph – the subject – then becomes the stop motion puppet. These pictures are then placed in a stop motion set (in this case many of the sets were made using cardboard) – think of a paper-doll’s house. In the set these pictures are then, as Florian Guillaume – the co-director and writer of the episode – phrased it in our interview, “reanimated” aside other stop motion effects and characters: The picture of the live-action subject is removed from the set and another picture, only slightly different from the first, replaces the first picture on the set. Rinse and repeat, until, finally, you have a scene in which the subject (originally live-action) appears to be moving by itself. Giving the scene, as two of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men” – Frank and Ollie – would say, “the illusion of life.”

The description of the video reads in concern to the project, “[Magic Shoe 3] took one day to shoot the characters on a green screen, more than 250 hours to select, retouch and hand-cut the 1,200 frames selected and three weeks to complete animation.”

I greatly admire the work done on this project and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more from the band in the future. While we’re waiting for the next installment of the Magic Shoe, you can like, subscribe, and visit the band on their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Their most recent album, “Handprint,” was released in September of last year, and features all of the songs in each of the Magic Shoe videos. You can go listen to their music on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and Apple Music.

I was fortunate enough to interview the band’s lead singer and guitarist, as well as the co-director and and writer of this Magic Shoe 3, Florian “Flo” Guillaume, to whom I am very grateful for taking the time to answer my questions. Through the interview Flo was able to shed some light on the creative process behind the film, as well as share a few little-known anecdotes. After the interview, I’ve posted the video and several behind-the-scenes photos of the project which Flo kindly provided me. Here’s the interview:

A.H. Uriah (Stop Motion Geek): I am particularly fascinated by the scrapbook-album-collage style of the video, aided with the help of replacement animation with the cut-out pictures of the real-life people in the video. Could you walk us through the process of working in this style, from original concept to final product?

Florian Guillaume: The first step was to imagine the mood of the video. We created a storyboard with the French cartoonist, CalamiT who has a very colourful imagination. We wanted to shoot the video in Venice, however the cost was prohibitive for our budget. We then decided to re-create Venice as much as we could in a studio environment using green screen to shoot the characters. The next step was probably the stage that I underestimated the most in that it was painstakingly time consuming; selecting 1,200 frames individually, retouching each frame to improve sharpness and colour, then printing each frame and cutting them out by hand using a scalpel knife. We then moved on to reanimating the characters using stop frame animation which was carried out by Nunu, a young Polish animator. She built all of the sets for the video by hand, and used some bespoke techniques and imaginative props to bring the story to life. The final steps were the editing and sound design for the film which we had to do together to ensure that the timing of the music matched the animation perfectly. Minimal colour grading was required, as the natural colours used were already bold and vibrant.

A.H.: This production is unique in that it is the third in a series of videos from several different creators, each of whom focus on a different cinematographic technique. The second episode was set in primarily reality-bound live-action, which is a far cry from the stylized reality of episode three. What artistic choices went into creating an episode where the characters were no longer bound by reality that eventually took the character where he ends up by the end of the episode?

FG: The first episode of The Magic Shoe was supposed to be a one off. However, we received so much wonderful feedback from the video, with many people asking what happens next, that we eventually decided to create Episode Two. The decision to create the second episode using a new technique was actually a slightly pragmatic one, in the sense that I wanted to explore and learn a new way of creating film. Therefore, I began planning a live action film using actors and animation in post-production to bring the shoe to life. The choice to create Episode Three as a collage stop-motion animation piece was another pragmatic one, as I wanted to explore the possibilities of this medium and add another string to my bow.

A.H.: One of the parts of the film I found interesting was the stylistic choice of grawlixes appearing above the heads of the characters in the story as a way of emoting how the characters feel – a hallmark technique of silent film that goes back to the earliest days of animation with cartoons like “Oswald and the Lucky Rabbit” and “Felix the Cat.” This is particularly interesting in your film as the video isn’t a traditional music video – as I perceive, there is very little on-screen correlation between the lyrics of the song and what is happening on-screen – essentially making the video a silent film (except for one part, which has – two minutes into the film – some singing). What were a few of the challenges you faced in crafting and animating what is practically a “silent” film?

FG: Every episode of The Magic Shoe features a song by my band, El Deyma. I write, produce and perform all of the songs as both the lead singer and guitarist, along with Giulio (bass) and Elio (drums). The correlation between the song and the video are actually quite strong. The lyrics for the song, Dino Monkey are a collage of words and ideas, with the same hook line, "You should be mine," sung repeatedly throughout the track. This supports the story line of the film whereby the villain is desperate to possess the shoe, which results in a manic chase from London to the streets of Venice. The film was largely inspired by comic book style story boarding, and I love the aesthetic of graphic novels. Lifting as many of the techniques used in illustrating a graphic novel as I could in the animation was also a convenient way of conveying expression for the characters. These techniques took the form of grawlixes to help express the character's exasperation or anger, the use of action lines to accentuate movement, and the intermission text plates to ask the audience what fate the villain should meet. The biggest challenge came in deciding how many action lines to use, as often we used too many and the flow of the film became cluttered. Another was to find diversity in the ways characters were expressing emotion. With Nunu, I had to carefully consider where to use certain techniques to ensure that there was variety throughout the film. Aside from the above, we thankfully did not encounter any major issues.

The video has been written, produced and co-directed by the band’s frontman, Florian Guillaume and co-directed, animated, edited by the young polish artist, Ala “Nunu” Leszyńska.

Directed by Flo and Nunu
With Tchavdar Pentchev, Margot Lambaert, Ismael Mouss, Bruno Jacqunes Alphonse
Written and produced by Florian Guillaume
Animation by Nunu
Editing and colour grading by Nunu
Green screen cinematography by Alec Hopkins
Choreography by Ivana Dimitrova
Special thanks to: Axelle and Kelly, Amelia, Vanessa, Giulio, AMUL friends

You can go watch Magic Shoe 3 by going here.

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